Hans Haacke, Condensation Cube, 1963-65.

thirty centimeters on the side that holds about one centimeter or so of water. Structure had to be separated from skin by a type of two-dimensional lung.” but also around the status of condensation as a cultural construct. needed to be rethought from the inside out without having to give up its unity. in which space air could flow. which can then be painted or papered. creating mold and rot. by the way. needed to be separated into two component layers. the dew point is much higher. To keep moisture in that air corridor from entering through the bricks. Though the problem was first noticed and studied by the French who were building thousands of apartments in Hausmann’s Paris. The wall. means ‘germ. about 65 degrees. whose family name. it was discovered that condensation appeared neither on the outside nor on the inside surfaces of the building. it was in the northern climate of Berlin where condensation proved to be particularly vexing.”4 This would leave the surface facing the room permanently dry so that it could be coated with plaster. in other words a flow of air. namely 65 degrees. which had become common in bourgeois houses. How the condensation is created can be explained in the following way: Air can hold only a limited amount of water vapor and when that limit or dew point—a law of nature. the interior wall could work as backdrop for the decorative embellishments in the room. composed of thin brick tiles separated from the structural wall by about an inch. His metaphor was thus appropriately biological. and the lungs of the newly devised body could guarantee the whole a long and healthy life. ducted heating systems in multi-floor apartment buildings. the positive. would offset the flow of water. To protect against Mauerfrass. and is. except that by the early twentieth century. but within the wall itself. Because plexiglass is a bad thermal insulator.035 Haacke’s condensation cube: the machine in the box and the travails of architecture Mark Jarzombek Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube (1963-65) is a hermetically sealed. In almost all art museums. It was thus natural that among the first scientists to address the problem was Adolf Wilhelm Keim (1851-1913). became the norm. Keim argued that the wall needed to be ventilated from within. therefore. And yet. the dew point is at 42 degrees. In Keim’s world. of course. But since the humidity is close to 100 percent. was now safe from the damp. The structure could then do the heavy lifting. if there was a moment where we see the first true separation of interior design from architecture. architecture. which applies to all bodies of air all over the world—is reached. with the advent of mechanized. Stones and bricks had survived relatively well even in damp climates. precisely the temperature of the plexiglass. in fact. it was . I will argue that the Cube sets in play a rather complex game of illusions between the museum and the architecture that defines its space. Needless to say. The story begins in the mid-nineteenth century when. known to every home-builder in the United States. literally a “wall-eating” disease that was. the capital investment that they represented. In the lingering encounter with lime and cement. a structural wall and a type of skin or internal surface. tar paper was preferred and by the mid twentieth century special types of plastic sheathing like Tyvek. clear acrylic plexiglass box. There it would lurk. Condensation endangered the life span of these new buildings and thus.2 Condensation collects against the inner surface of the plexiglass forming vertical streaks on the inside. Keim’s solution has been used in architecture ever since. This revolves not only around the word “cube. and architecture from environmental engineering. in Keim’s mind’s eye. the negative. similar to cancer eating at the tissue of a living body. condensation occurs. Keim added that it was “beneficial to give the inner surface of the tiles a coat of asphalt. What happens is that the dry heat on the inside sucks the moisture deeper into the building where it no longer dries out in the summer. in facing the crisis of industrialization. Wall paper. and which had also become quite costly. that in itself is not the problem. which means that at a relative humidity of about 45 percent (the standard in most museums).’3 He argued that though dampness is brought into architecture because of the capillary nature of stone and brick. the air temperature inside the Cube is the same as the temperature on the outside. the temperature is set at a cool 65 degrees Fahrenheit. moisture creates corrosive chemical discharges that lead to what Keim called Mauerfrass.

The condensation in the Cube is thus a type of perpetuum mobile induced into motion by remote control. The Condensation Cube would become just a cube and no longer a “work of art.. that it is not just the mechanization of atmosphere that is important in museums. since air conditioning. a manmade constant against a natural law – the white noise of the machines against the quiet of the water. condensation was an industrial not a civilian problem. The trend maintained itself through largely WWII when the military created sophisticated insulated and dehumidified environments for the transportation of munitions. One artifice is posited against another. it is the museum’s constantly monitored machines – a humidifier and a de-humidifier working together with a thermohygrometer (also known as hygrothermograph) – that produce the constant rain of droplets in Haacke’s Cube. for one has to remember. first made in 1963. The history of condensation took another step.e. As one expert noted. The Cube is. The Cube also creates a feed-back loop with the machines that set its condensation in motion. The first de-humidifier was built for the United States military in 1947. however.6 Machines specifically designed for museums were now available. Museum chatter on the topic reached a pitch by the late 1950s.036 papers when architecture had to guarantee a way to keep the interior surfaces dry. “fluctuations in temperature and humidity caused by external factors. with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) dedicating its entire 1960 issue of Museum to the question of atmospheric standards and norms. which is why the more precious the objects. which therefore needs to be reliable. sudden weather changes. of course. the micro-climate around it would change the Condensation Cube into just a plexi- . Already in 1949 the Housing and Home Finance Agency published Condensation Control. Architects in the mid 1960s were. as the quote above indicates. In other words. was produced at the very time when museum curating and moisture engineering were becoming synonymous. The irony is that. enamored of the promises of environmental management and soon began to design hermetically-sealed buildings. However. air conditioning returned moisture back into the architectural ecosystem. are a major problem for museums. was mainly used to cool machinery in milling and paper factories. A museum visitor is a potential danger to the law of environmental constancy. a Box against a Cube. visitors to the museum endanger that relationship.7 This soon became the rule governing the preservation of most art works. etc.” This means that: Museums need to control the environment around exhibits 24 hours a day. the greater the restrictions on how many people are allowed into the museum space. machines that combined both humidification and dehumidification. with numerous studies being undertaken to show that artifacts practically of all types were vulnerable if not protected from heat and humidity. a pivotal document in understanding the science of building moisture. Condensation was now encountered by the home builders on a scale never before seen. If too many people were to stand close to the Cube. Humans bring heat and humidity into the room. with the Cube a type of monitor in its own right. They were more complex than humidifiers since if not maintained properly. more than an ironic counterstatement to the museological environment. thus requiring the introduction of an array of chemicals to keep them clean. with Willis Carrier’s patent given out in 1906. both humidifiers and dehumidifiers became significantly cheaper. One has to remember that the shift from a biological metaphor of architectural illness (Mauerfrass as cancer that could be cured by a delamination of the skin from the architectural body) to a mechanical metaphor of respirated atmosphere parallels the design of hermetically-sealed space capsules by NASA. by observing the Condensation Cube one is registering the efficiency of the machines. for if the machines were to malfunction. which meant that mechanized air now became more properly “architectural. an influx of visitors. After WWII. This requires constant operation of the humidification system. heating. mold and bacteria could grow inside them.” Soon one could find air conditioners in any American home. If heating dried the air out. and one that brings us even closer to meaning of the Cube. i. when we move from the heating to the cooling of air.” Stated differently. Museums were a major advocate of applied atmospheric control.8 The Condensation Cube. condensation would not appear. The piece sets the natural cycles of water and condensation in relation to the invisible and tightly sealed plastic sheathing hidden from view in the museum’s walls. seven days a week as temperature and relative humidity can fluctuate frequently and dramatically on a daily basis. but the need to preserve temperature and humidity at a constant level. the fundamental premise being in most museums to keep the temperature as low as possible and the humidity as constant as possible.

had to split its surface. Architecture is.haake’s condensation cube 037 glass box. it is cheaper to tear it down altogether. discovers in the process a mortality that is no longer possible for museological art. it collapses. There is a redeeming element in this. It respects and violates nature's legality.11 The building’s respirators keep the art alive. The modernist attitude to condensation started from the premise that diseases could be dealt with by effective treatments. ultimately. and spalling of masonry – damage which can quite rapidly reduce building elements to the point where renovation must be performed. rot and rust at a more natural pace. Condensation brings to architecture a quality that is forbidden to art. As one researcher noted. it also became a machine-to-exhibit-in that. . without remorse. is defined as that which must last. The Condensation Cube works because it explicates nature’s departure from itself as something that is simultaneously absolutely natural and absolutely artificial. The problem becomes even more complex when one takes into consideration that the environmental constant that is created to preserve art works actually endangers the building. or in the specially designed air cavities. in turn. brought to light as an infirm and ultimately discardable body. and is still the approach of the curatorialized museum. it blocks moister from going out.the potential importance of their cultural messages. In other words. where its pieces wind up in a dump to mold. “water vapor. since in being “sealed” it encounters its status as something that is undone. therefore. became increasingly regulatory and simultaneously architecturally self-defeating. lets us see the processes that are corroding the building from inside out. of course. and to architecture its sad and muted collapse into dampness. perhaps a hand rail here. And in winter. in the service of modern comfort. Architecture. yet for better or worse.”9 Normally one wants condensation to form on the outside of the building. despite all that it reveals in the context of the modern museum. as Adorno argues. The Condensation Cube – a condensationproducing machine in its own right – is thus the mirror into architecture’s philosophical impossibility. “to rotting of wooden elements. corrosion of metal elements. instead of blocking moisture from coming in. the more. was based on the promise of the freedom that artists supposedly had within its space. its transparent walls mimicking the vapor barrier in the museum’s walls. one could ascribe to art works -this one included . It places them in quarantine.” then that is what architecture is in no position to accomplish. one could say.' temporality and. namely a slow and. and then finally. as that which must be protected from both human contact and the naturalness of climatic fluctuations. The Cube. but what happens is that in summer. but spell architecture’s doom. a light fixture there. water condenses on the inner surfaces. The difference between the Box and the Cube is the difference between modernism and postmodernism. even one that displays nothing more than condensation. This was the approach of Keim. for if. scanning a passage from nature to society and back again. leading. the museum building. as Keim had hoped. 'Mauerfrass. in that even though machines in their effectiveness first compensated for and then actually created an ineffectual architecture (or rather an ineffectuality that we continue to call “architecture”). But the more one sets out such a separation between art and architecture. internal air is cooler than outside air and that. it has become a bio-cultural structure where pieces start to get replaced.1 The modernist museum. an art work is such only because it is “hermetically sealed off and blind” and yet able “to represent the outside world. 'Mauerfrass' is nature enforcing its presence over the artificial. almost natural death. and then eventually a wall needs to be rebuilt. thus its purported retreat from representation – the empty loft preferred over the colonnaded hallways of old. thus traps the very mechanisms that it wishes to expose. It is the representation of that paradox that is at stake with The Cube. had no real choice in the matter. but once split it could not be put together again. one must remember. irrelevance. But in becoming more and more a refrigerated Box. the architectural body has to be sacrificed in the name of art. architecture is that which can never achieve such cultural status.”10 In other words. If an art work. the vapor barrier is on the wrong side of the inner air corridor. The result is a conundrum. as it has been observed. thermal diffusion and interstitial condensation have become a serious problem for many museums. mold growth on interior finishes. On the surface. unlike Haacke’s Cube. The postmodernist position accepts the failure of science – and even the complicity of science in that failure – while struggling to make sense of a more complex bio-cultural world. when there is less moisture outside than inside and when the humid indoor air meets building elements that are cooled by contact with the outdoor climate. unlike an art work. however. the attempt to control condensation creates situations where condensation is even more of a problem. Architecture in the nineteenth century. The Condensation Cube. setting off environmental as well as curatorial alarms.

accessed 04 June 2005. 1978). Nature. http://www. Washington.com/art. Builders. The vast literature on this need not be cited. 12-24. His company. DC (August. R. Beseitigung (Berlin: Petersilge & Korwitz. “Humidity and moisture in Historic Buildings: The Origins of Building and Object Conservation. See: http://www. 335.. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 . Eduard Mueller. 24. still exists today. This is an excerpt from an article which was published as: JP Brown & William B Rose. See discussion in Energy Conservation and Thermal Insulation.rap-arcc.” See: http://palimpsest. For Architects. stanford. Oskar Arendt. Housing and Home Finance Agency (HHFA). second revised edition Vienna: Hartleben. “Fresh-air Climate Conditioning at the Arthur M. Keim produced a new generation of paint that could last in the northern climes. Chissick (John Wiley& Sons. There is. Painters. Sackler Museum. accessed 04 June 2005. By the 1980s. but art museums for the large part have not relented. Wesen und Wirkung betrachtet und die Mittel zur Verhütung.038 papers 1 endnotes Theodor Adorno. and House-owners (London: Scott. 1881. with Remarks on the Causes. and Julius Wolfmann. trans. causes wooden parts to expand and push against one another while simultaneously softening many traditional glues used to hold joinery and veneers together.” Association for Preservation Technology Bulletin. that humidity above 60% RH. die Feuchtigkeit in den Gebaeuden zu verhindern und zu vertilgen (1845). Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann (London: Routledge.S. Die Feuchtigkeit in massiven Mauern. Other works that deal with the problem of condensation are: Vaudoyer.” drove architects back to more flexible positions. accessed 04 June 2005. Die Feuchtigkeit der Wohngebäude. Adolf Keim.jshumidifiers. ed. that allows the water to be drained when not on display. ihre Entstehung. Plasterers.edu/byauth/brownjp/humidity1997. http://palimpsest. accessed June 2005. The book was translated into English in 1902 as The Prevention of Dampness in Buildings. One solution used by the Sackler Museum at Harvard was to pressurize the inside spaces so that moisture is driven outward. der Mauerfraß und Holzschwamm: nach Ursache. the emergence of Sick Building Syndrome (first recognized in 1982) and various types of “killer mold. 1910). 1981). Condensation Control in Modern Buildings. Belehrungen ueber die Mittel. the AdolfWilhelm-Keim-Gesellschaft. Suffice it to note that researchers have determined. mold and mildew may form and grow on wooden surfaces. Garry Thomson. 12 2 The problem was addressed at the 1991 joint meeting of the Association for Preservation Technology and the American Institute for Conservation. Verhütung u. and Effects of Saline Efflorescences and Dry-rot. 257. for example. Derricott and S. Overseers. 1901). a small hole at the bottom covered with clear tape.” The International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship. The Museum Environment (London: Butterworths. 5/4 (December 1986). Wie beseitigt und verhütet man Feuchtigkeit und Schwamm in Wohnhäusern? Für Bauhandwerker (Berlin: Mayer & Müller. Aesthetic Theory. however. 1900).html. 27/3 (1996). 1906). sowie zur sicheren und nachhaltigen Beseitigung dieser Übel (Vienna: Hartleben. html [online]. 1902). [online].htm [online]. When relative humidity reaches 70% in conjunction with temperatures above 60°F.edu/bytopic/ethics/neworlea. The Prevention of Dampness in Buildings.org/ leaflets/wmfurn. Greenwood & co. Feuchtigkeit und Schwammentwickelung in Wohngebäuden (Berlin: Siemenroth.htm [online]. 463-509. 1949). 1986). See: Michael Williams. Adolf Wilhelm Keim. One of the principles they adopted was that the museum “should recognize the need to preserve the unique character of both the historic structure and artifacts.stanford.

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